It is no secret, that I am the anti-FMA Grandmaster. I respect them. But I disagree with most of them when concerning teaching the art. The proof is in the pudding, and I support my side of the debate with my claim that I will bet my house on ANY of my instructor level students against ANY of theirs.
Sadly, most Grandmasters would never take such a bet, and most of them can’t even name all of their instructor level students. This is not a judgment against teachers with a lot of students. But it is a judgment against the teaching format most of the Grandmasters (and most likely, yours too) use to impart this art. I can understand, that many good teachers have taught so many students that they cannot remember everyone’s name. I have only been teaching for 28 years, and I can’t name all my students, and the largest my enrollment has ever been was 175.
The act of teaching a student from the beginner level through a high level of proficiency is a very intimate one. It is not a business transaction. The way many FMA students are taught are very impersonal. Teachers know nothing about you. Often, they don’t even meet you–especially if the lessons were via distance learning (aka “DVD”). In a seminar, the most contact one might have with a teacher is the occasional correction he might do (that is, if he actually does the correcting instead of one of his helpers), or at the end of the session, when handing out certificates, shaking hands and taking pictures. This is not how one guarantees the skill level of someone you’re teaching. It is a method of imparting the art to the masses, spreading the name of the system–which is supposed to be good for the FMAs in general (if you believe mass marketing is in fact the answer). I strongly disagree. And unlike most guys stating their opinion, I will prove my point in person.
One of the teaching concepts I disagree with is the idea of “Drinking out of a waterhose”, often associated with GM Dan Inosanto. It goes like this: You have a large group of students of varied levels and experience in one room. You need a way to give the bare-bones beginner something to take home, as well as the Guro-student who is already teaching. How to accomplish this? Without teaching over the heads of the beginner while not boring the advanced guy?
The answer: You give them so much technique in that session and students take away as much as they remember. You pour it out fast, give multiple variations, concepts, what-if exchanges and updated changes to the stuff they learned last time they came. Those who can drink fast, retain more. Those who cannot, retain what they can. Hmmph. Well, thank God for camcorders and cell phones. At the end of every seminar, there should be at least two or three breaks where the GM dazzles them with a display of choreographed give and take/counter demonstrations, along with the “you-can-do-dis-you-can-do-dat” with a Filipino accent. Ooooo…. Ahhhhh….. How authentic. Makes you feel like a Mindanao warrior. lol
But real skill in the art is not learned this way. Doesn’t matter how much you practice after the seminar is over and the Grandmaster flies home. It shouldn’t even be taught this way. Martial arts is not taught like how academics is taught in the lecture halls–it should be taught like the breakout groups with the professor’s assistants through the week. (Hey I never said I didn’t go to college) The study groups, where the basics are drilled and questions are asked, and two or three days a week, the same material is introduced and reintroduced, questioned, analyzed and dissected <—- this is where the learning occurs. If you got a hodgepodge of information one week in a session, then often unrelated stuff a few months from now (or worse–next year), you’ll never learn. This is not a cohesive, intensive study of a subject. Instead, it is an introduction that comes in small, barely digested bites. You can’t learn a language in a seminar a few times a year, and you certainly can’t learn a fighting art that will one day save your life on the street this way either.
When teaching, I believe in the immersion method. You come back week after week, drill the same few techniques over and over, hundreds of repetitions per session, thousands of repetitions per month, for years. You live, eat, breathe the art–in the presence of the Master. You sit at his feet for hours at a time to learn what he has to impart with no time constraints. You don’t have many students to compete against for his attention. He learns you like a mentor learns his pupil, like a doctor learns his patient… like a parent learns his child. Your student learns your favorite meals, he knows how you got almost every injury you have, know the origin of the scars on your face and who gave it to you. You know his financial issues, you’ve talked about his marital woes, his fears while walking on the street. You know his habits when he fights, what he’s good at, what he isn’t good at, how he will be beaten, what he specializes in when he is fighting. Your student’s skill is a constant work in progress, like a tree stump you whittle on daily for years, until it looks like a perfect replica of whatever was in your mind. Every mistake he made in fighting, you’ve already erased. Things he can’t do are no longer an issue, because you’ve taught him how to overcome it. I have students who aren’t perfect fighters, but I have taught them how to work around those imperfections. And when I was confident that they will dominate whoever is in front of them, I considered them advanced enough to teach.
This ^^^ my friends, is how you “certify” a Guro. Not through some crash or correspondence course where you wouldn’t bet your reputation on them if asked. Trust me, I’ve heard all the excuses:
- What about the guys who live out of town? They need to relocate, travel or find another teacher. You can’t have them all
- What about the guys whose careers don’t allow them to study full time? They are not viable candidates to be a martial arts teacher. I am a doctor, but I want to be a lawyer too. Yeah, well I’d like to be a millionaire. Get out my face with that–make a decision
- The art needs to be spread to as many people as possible. Says who? McGuro? Next!
- Not everyone wants to be a great fighter. Then they need to find another occupation
Little Mikey wants to be a doctor, but he has neither the grades to get into medical school, the discipline to finish a program, or lives in a city with a medical school. So what should he do? Well, there are laws against him calling himself a doctor. Unless he is willing to improve his grades, work hard for it, or relocate to a city that has a medical school (and get accepted)–he honestly doesn’t want to be a doctor. I would question any asshole who taps him on the shoulder and finds a way for him to become a “certified” Doctor without doing it the way everyone else did it. Most of your grandmasters have done this with the Filipino Martial Arts.
This is one of the main reasons thekuntawman exists, and why many people dislike me–because I won’t shut up about it. And this is the driving force behind most of the articles on this blog; the Filipino martial arts has become a mass-marketed commodity. It is no longer the deadly fighting art it claims to be, and so many Grandmasters are the reason why.
Martial arts technique is not meant to be drunk through a waterhose, but to be sipped through a drinking straw. It must be absorbed in fully; not to have most of it wasted down your chin. I have 8 leg attacks in my system, and I never teach more than one or two at a time. Students are here to learn completely and absorb my system, not to have me show them something they could memorize and demonstrate to youtube. When they fight, I expect everything in their arsenal to be a knee-jerk reaction or deliberate use of technique in live time. You can’t do this when more is thrown at them than can become a part of their thought process. I believe in this system of teaching, and this is the reason I will always put my guys out as proof of it–and why most “masters” won’t.
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